At the age of thirteen, writer/director, Darren Aronofsky first became attracted to the story of Noah's ark. As his critically acclaimed career has progressed, so has his love for the sweeping landscapes of Iceland which serve as the film's main shooting locations. Now, thirty-two years later, his highly ambitious bible epic reaches the big screen.
As a gesture of gratitude, the director has brought the feature premiere to Reykjavík's "Sambíóin - Egilshöll" cinema, followed by a special concert in aid of protecting Icelandic nature, featuring guest performances by such luminaries as Björk, Patti Smith, Lykke Li and Monsters of Men.
At a press conference at the premiere, the filmmaker spoke about some of the controversy surrounding the film as well his strong relationship with the country and how it served as the perfect location for his bold vision.
Aronofsky was joined by Patti Smith and producer Scott Franklin.
"It all started with a teacher I had," Darren says, "who basically told everyone to take a paper and a pen an write something on peace, and I wrote a poem on Noah. It ended up winning a contest at the United Nations and it was the first time I had ever won anything. So it sort of sent me down the path of storytelling and creative writing. As soon as I started making films I kept thinking to myself: 'Why hasn't anyone taken one of the oldest stories in the world and made it into a film?' A story that belongs to everyone on the planet, no matter what religion."
It might go without saying that when adapting a bible story for the big screen, one is bound to receive a fair share of scrutiny and criticism. When asked about the controversy, Aronofsky replied that all of the controversy is being generated by people who haven't seen the movie, and feels confident that the tide is turning into something much more positive by those who have.
"There is this idea about over-population, about the literalness of the bible, but that's such a shaky word when you're dealing with four chapters. It was like adapting anything, you want to be truthful to the source material. You don't want to contradict it, but instead breathe life into it and make it accessible to a 21st century audience. And that's what's happening. People are seeing the film now and it's been terrific seeing how supportive many have been."
A few weeks ago a rumor had been spreading around that Pope Francis had recently denied Aronofsky and star Russell Crowe an audience to view the film and meet with them. In recent weeks, Crowe did repeatedly reach out to Pope Francis via Twitter suggesting that he should see it. Paramount reached out to the Vatican to propose a meeting, the studio said.
However, according to the studio, the Vatican told Paramount that a meeting between Pope Francis and Crowe in St. Peter's Square could disrupt and complicate the event because he is such a well-known star, making it problematic to proceed. The studio replied saying that they understood the reasoning and subsequently dropped the plan... though the director still hopes that his holiness will eventually see the film.
"Pope Francis's words on the environment have been an inspiration; in his first sermon he talked about stewardship, and how we should all be stewards for all creation. It is my hope that the pope will see the movie because I think the themes of Noah are definitely connected to the ideas that he's speaking about."
Darren points to Patti and states that she's actually met Francis.
"Twice," she says. "He has a great smile, but he's also lovingly naughty."
A question comes up regarding the filmmakers choice to shoot in Iceland. It has become increasingly more popular to shoot here, and these past years have seen big studio releases with prominent Icelandic landscapes, ranging from Prometheus to Oblivion and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but rarely has the country been as important as when filtered through Darren' lens.
Producer Scott Franklin chimes in:
"I would come back and work in Iceland on any film. Every hour here during the summer is magic hour, it's amazing. The crew is fantastic, incredibly hard working and very welcoming, it was really just an immediate bond."
Patti concurs and adds:
"The beauty of Iceland is not just in the landscape, it's in everything! Aesthetically from clothing to the colors of the land... it's beautiful, it resonates."
"I'm so excited for Iceland to see it, it's a really featured character in the film." says Darren, who also states that untouched nature is exceptionally rare. "It's not like we tried to bend too much of what's there and you recognize a lot of the country in the film."
Unavoidably, a local journalist asked about working under the country's notorious weather conditions.
"Yeah, I'm sorry," says the director, "...but your weather kind of sucks!... for shooting! (everyone laughs) "It's incredibly inspiring but you want consistent weather when you're doing a movie, because shooting a scene can take many hours, but as you all know the weather can change in seconds, and in minutes."
"On the first day when we were shooting the garden of Eden here, we needed it to be sunny, and in the garden of Eden it shouldn't be raining, and because... well, the rest of the film is raining. But of course, the first day we get there, and it's pouring," he continues. "There's going to be a really good behind the scenes film about the making of Noah, and the first like 20 or 30 minutes are all about Iceland, but the opening shot is us underneath a tent, staring out in the rain. But what we learned was, as an independent guerrilla film maker who always works with what he's dealt with, the filming wasn't like I imagined it because of the Icelandic weather."
In regards more to the unpredictable shooting schedules the director was asked whether the discussion ever came up to use any live animals on set.
"Never," he answered.
"For several reasons, first politically, working with live animals is very suspect in present time, y'know, Planet of the Apes (remake) proved that you can make sentient creatures incredibly realistic, but bringing a sentient, exotic creature on to a set is really, really questionable, if that's morally or ethically correct to do. But creatively, I never wanted to represent the animal kingdom like visiting a zoo. I really wanted to capture the majesty and complexity of the animals, so I was never interested in bringing in any animals from captivity."
Noah opens worldwide on March 28th and stars Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins and we're very confident that true fans of the director will not be disappointed.